I wonder how many of our Halloween customs and our fear of the unknown are based on the fact that Americans fear death far more than any other culture does. We don’t touch the dead, we don’t associate with the dead the way other cultures do… Other cultures wash their dead, they dress their dead, they put the dead in their living room.
we touched on death and how little real connection we have to that life cycle event. Parents and grandparents are shipped out to nursing homes. We regard death as a medical event only, and not as a family event. Taking care of the remains of loved ones has become no different than sending out clothes to a dry cleaners.
I agree up to a point. I don’t have any reason to believe that ours is the culture that most fears death. Additionally, my experience is that in poor countries anyone who can afford a servant has one, and that servant is the one taking care of the daily chores. In India, an entire caste took care of the dead.
But the point in which we all agree – Mamacita, Teo, Siggy and I – is that in our contemporary society we are increasingly isolating ourselves from human contact and from dealing with the day-to-day activities that keep us in touch with what real death and real life are all about. As Siggy said,
All the things that are part of our existence, at least in Western culture, we can farm out.
This is not new; indeed it goes back to Egyptian times when they were farming out the chores to the Israelites (who left as soon as they were able to).
First let’s look at the daily chores; tomorrow I’ll discuss the ageing aspect.
(1st century). The sister of Lazarus and of Mary who is often identified with Mary Magdalene, Martha received Christ in their household at Bethany, which was specially loved by him (Luke 10: 38–42), on which occasion he gently reproved her for her complaint that her sister Mary did not help her sufficiently in the necessary preparations. The words of Christ were frequently represented as indicating the excellence of the contemplative life (represented by Mary) over the cares of the active life, represented by Martha. In the Gospel of John, Martha also appeared on the occasion of the Raising of Lazarus ( John 11: 1–46), when her faith in Christ and his divine power was the occasion for the famous words ‘I am the resurrection and the life’, and for the miracle of Lazarus’ return to life. It was also recorded that Christ once again had supper at Bethany, where Martha served him six days before the passover ( John 12: 1–2). This is all that can be known of her from the New Testament; there is no early tradition about her death.
Martha, then, is connected to the care of the home (Luke 10: 38–42)
38As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.
39She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.
40But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
41″Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42but only one thing is needed.[a] Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
This passage is now interpreted to mean that spiritual matters take precedence over material matters. However, having done some entertaining of my own, I still find it irksome. As Dymphna said,
I think Jesus would’ve had a different answer if they both sat around listening to Him and there was no supper.
Or if Jesus and the Apostles arrived at Martha’s house and there was no place to sit because of the dirt and all the clutter.
Obviously I’m not quite up to speed when it comes to the contemplative life. But I digress.
Martha is also involved in the care of the dead, first with the resurrection of her brother Lazarus (John 11: 1–46), who is resurrected through her faith,
17On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18Bethany was less than two miles[a] from Jerusalem, 19and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
21″Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.
22But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
23Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
24Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
25Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies;
26and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
27″Yes, Lord,” she told him, “I believe that you are the Christ,[b] the Son of God, who was to come into the world.”
And also with Jesus’s own death, since he spent the six days before Passover at her house.
Martha then, to me symbolizes the balance of the spiritual – which is sometimes lacking in our day – with the cotidian.
Unfortunately, in our modern world we now seem to have lost both.
As readers of this blog know, I’m addicted to HGTV and other do-it-yourself programs. In several programs, TV crews go to people’s houses and reorganize years’ and decades’ worth of decay and neglect.
The only question I have when I have watched these programs is,How can one’s spirit be so lost that one can live in such chaos?
In her excellent book, Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House, Cheryl Mendelson says,
When you keep house, you use your head, your heart and your hands together to create a home – the place where you live the most important parts of your private life.
And that’s what it all comes down to, isn’t it: creating a home with our heads, our hearts and our hands.
With respect to our current distance from death, I think that this affects feminist ideology. Many younger women don’t seem to realize that much of the work previously done by many women–feeding the family, raising the children, caring for the sick, and consolling the dying – was actually much more relevant to meaning of life questions than today’s “careers.” I become really angry when modern feminists act as though women like my mother and her sisters were some sort of mindless victims. Even without a college education, these women knew more about life than today’s fem will ever learn at the University of Delaware.
Mamacita also pointed out that in our society we’re encouraged not to touch each other at all (except possibly in a sexual context). As Teo mentioned in the podcast, we’re behaving as adolescents, outsourcing hardship, focused on sex instead of on meaningful human contact, and isolating ourselves by technology.
Teo pointed out that
In some fashion, Halloween, when all these kids run around collecting candy, with their parents, dressed up as all kinds of things, is a throwback to a world that was invented, in many respects, but that seeks to recreate a world as it was.
Maybe it’s time we touched each other more, and we paid more attention to creating homes with our heads, our hearts and our hands.
Do we risk getting hurt by doing so?
And if we do, is it worth it?
Tomorrow I’ll post about the subject of age, as we mentioned in the podcast.
CONTINUED on Saturday November 3:
(On the subject of Martha, see also this interesting essay by Clara Beth Speel Van de Water )